05/15/2007versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

Chiquita company explains why it paid 1,7 million dollars to Colombian paramilitary groups
“Chiquita Brand, the US multinational of 'full marks' bananas paid over 1.7 million dollars to the Colombia United Self-defence paramilitary group, the hard right group formed by Salvatore Mancuso, the drug dealing king. Chiquita representatives acknowledged the payment in front of the Washington Federal Court that fined the multinational by 25 million dollars”. This was the start of the PeaceReporter article telling what happened in Colombia to the US company, with branches all over the world and cultivated fields in the most fertile countries. But it is Paolo Prudenziati, the vice-president of Southern Europe area of Chiquita Brand, who explains why an economic power employing 26,000 people gave up to blackmails of paramilitaries ready to everything.

le banane ChiquitaMea culpa. “First of all Chiquita payments to Colombia paramilitary groups at the time had a single goal: to protect our workers' lives during a phase in which robberies and homicides were frequent, and in a background where government authorities were not able to guarantee security and protection – Prudenziati explains to PeaceReporter – Chiquita voluntarily revealed this situation to the Department of Justice in 2003, right after the company top management realised that the American Statute had changed, ruling that from that time on any payment to similar organisations would have been considered a crime. To our knowledge Chiquita is the only company having voluntarily declared such a situation to the Department”.

Investigations. Chiquita reached an agreement with the US Department of Justice concerning payments made by “Banadex”, a former Chiquita-controlled society, to Colombian paramilitary organisations. The deal is that Chiquita will pay a 25 million dollars fine in five years, having voluntarily pleaded guilty of US law violation for having made payments in the period 2001-2004 to entities affiliated with the organisation “Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia” (Auc). This affair has been investigated by the Department of Justice with complete cooperation by Chiquita, after the company itself voluntarily reported the situation in 2003.

Paramilitare colombianoFacts. The evidence of the seriousness of the Colombian situation during the last decades, with an internal war between reactionary paramilitaries (Auc) and revolutionary guerrillas following Marxist principles (Colombia Revolutionary Armed Forces, Farc, and National Liberation Army, Eln) that involves with no distinction civilians and companies in a dirty blackmail and drug dealing game, is the Department of Justice report mentioned by Prudenziati, in which we find the following revealing sentence: “Castaño (Auc leader) filed a message in which it was clear, although not explicitly stated, that failing to pay would result in physical injuries and damages to Banadex personnel and properties”.
“Without explicitly reporting other situations – the Chiquita manager explains – we must remember that many other foreign companies had to take extraordinary measures to protect their own workers, including giving up to extortions, and this because of the seriousness of threats against employees.

The sale. This situation forced the multinational to leave the country. “In 2004 – Paolo Prudenziati continues – Chiquita sold its fields, with a significant loss, with the aim to disentangle from this ethical and legal dilemma. The selling conditions of these fields have been the result of a deal with the global Union of workers in the food and bananas industry, Iuf and Coisiba”. Banacol purchased the fields and accepted all the points in the deal imposed by Chiquita, that is to say to maintain the collective agreement negotiated between Chiquita and the Sintrainagrom Union, which will have to continue representing the workers, and to honour all the food safety certifications obtained by Chiquita. “Conditions – the spokesman wants to underline – that have been fully implemented by the new owners”.

Banano, in una coltivazione sudamericana della Chiquita BrandArms trade. “In some recent articles – the vice president of the multinational Southern Europe area continues – the press improperly suggested that Chiquita was involved in an illegal arms import conducted by the AUC group in 2001. This event has been deeply investigated by the Colombian government and international authorities, including Asp (American States Organisation) but no illegal conduct or misdeed by the company or its employees has been found. A Banadex employee has been imprisoned for a short time and then released and completely freed after a thorough inquiry performed by the Colombian Attorney General. Eventually Bogotà government charged four customs houses. Right after learning of the incident Chiquita and Banadex voluntarily decided not to accept third party cargo ships. No legal authority ordered or suggested this change”. Chiquita also reports that from that time until the Banadex sale the company accepted only self-owned or self-managed cargo ships. According to the documentation produced by Aso and Colombian Attorney General, “there is no basis to these wrong statements”.
Stella Spinelli